Abstract

As part of a larger research project on the intersections between transness, disability, cisgenderism (also called transphobia), and ableism/sanism, this article presents the results of a three-month netnography of blog posts made between 2013 and 2019 by selected Tumblr and off-Tumblr blogs authored by people identifying as both trans and disabled. Mobilizing a theoretical framework that combines trans and disability/crip/Mad theory and the notion of epistemic injustice, we highlight the unique possibilities of community building, connection, identity formation, and micro-practices of resistance in trans disabled digital communities. Trans disabled bloggers counter epistemic injustice by speaking back, reclaiming space, and responding to the cisgenderist and ableist/sanist micro-aggressions they experience in their daily lives. This exploration of trans disabled bloggers' micro-activism is divided into four parts. After reviewing the literature in the emerging field of trans disability studies in the first part, the second and third parts present our theoretical and methodological frameworks. Findings are presented and discussed in the three subsections of the fourth part, which delves deeper into our typology of three interrelated genres of trans disabled blog posts: informational, testimonial, and activist. As their names suggest, these genres aim respectively to: 1) inform other trans disabled internet users of identificatory possibilities; 2) testify about bloggers' lived experiences; and 3) advocate for trans disabled people through appeals to users both within and outside trans and disabled communities.


Introduction: At the margins of trans and disabled communities

[A]lthough seemingly small and negligible, a crucial part of an insurrectionist epistemology is micro-resistance. Precisely because micro-aggressions occupy such a central part in unfair communicative practices, the eradication of epistemic injustices will require micro-practices that disarm and subvert microaggressive moves at the same level at which they occur. […] Micro-practices of resistance are heavily situated and contextualized moves that often require a lot of inventiveness […]. Their effectiveness will never be guaranteed since the resisting act may need many things to succeed […]. But no matter how fragile, precarious, and minimally efficacious, micro-practices of resistance are worth pursuing in a sustained and concerted way because, just as any single act of micro-aggression may not do a lot of harm but collectively micro-aggressions help to maintain a culture of intimidation and epistemic violence, micro-activities of resistance taken collectively can help to undermine, weaken, and ultimately destroy such culture […] (Medina, 2017: 258).

In the spirit of multiple "liberatory epistemologies" (Tuana, 2017) put forward by Patricia Hill Collins (1990/2000) and other queer, feminist, and critical race studies scholars, José Medina's (2012; 2017) work on racial oppression discusses the importance of an "epistemology of resistance." Such an epistemology represents a means to counter epistemic injustices perpetrated in the form of knowledge that facilitates economic, social, political, medical, and other kinds of violence (Fricker, 2007). Medina argues that resistance can take the form of micro-practices, also called micro-activism. Often discredited in their capacity as knowledgeable subjects, marginalized groups have long experienced the erasure and delegitimization of their experiences, expertise, and knowledge. An epistemology of resistance, or, in Medina's Foucauldian-inspired terms, an insurrectionist epistemology, allows epistemically marginalized communities to highlight the value of their "subjugated knowledge" (Foucault, 2001) and strike back against daily acts of oppression. Although Medina (2012; 2017: 259) recognizes that micro-practices of resistance alone are insufficient to eradicate oppression and must be accompanied by other forms of structural and institutional resistance, he insists on the heuristic value of small actions that, taken together, constitute a response to oppression.

Scholars in the fields of trans studies 2 (e.g. Skryker and Whittle, 2006; Stryker and Azura, 2013; Radi, 2019) and critical disability/Mad studies 3 (e.g. Davis, 2013; LeFrançois et al., 2013; Liegghio, 2013) have shown that both trans and disabled/Mad communities experience epistemic injustices based on their gender identities and dis/abilities. A number of scholars specializing in epistemic injustice have confirmed this and analyzed its ramifications for trans, disabled/Mad, and other marginalized communities (e.g. Dotson, 2011; Leblanc and Kinsella, 2016; Crichton et al., 2017; Fricker and Jenkins, 2017). Furthermore, intersectional analyses show us that those living at the intersections of multiple forms of oppressions are at higher risk of violence and marginalization, including epistemic violence: they are more likely to have their voices silenced and their discourses invalidated (Hill Collins, 2000). For the trans disabled subjects, including mentally 4 disabled subjects at the heart of this article and other individuals living at the intersection of transness and disability/Madness, it is clear that the interlocking effects of cisgenderism 5 and ableism/sanism have impeded their recognition as knowledgeable subjects and the potential to be heard as such.

While we may initially think that trans disabled (TD) people represent a small fraction of trans and disabled/Mad communities, quantitative studies show that a large number of individuals are simultaneously trans and disabled/Mad. To give only two examples from the United States and Canada, the national contexts in which this paper is anchored, the Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey states that 39% of the 27,715 trans people surveyed self-identified as living with disability or chronic illness (James et al., 2016: 57). Of the 2,873 Canadians polled in the Trans PULSE Survey, "43% of trans and non-binary people identified as a psychiatric survivor, mad [sic], or person with mental illness [and] 30% identified as neurodivergent [and 14% as autistic]" (Trans PULSE Canada Team, 2020: 2). 6 As discussed in the emerging field of trans disability studies (e.g. Baril, 2018; Slater and Liddiard, 2018; Slater et al., 2018), the high percentage of people who are both trans and disabled/Mad calls not only for a reconceptualization of these siloed categories as porous, but also for immediate efforts to better understand the concrete experiences and needs of TD people who face multiple forms of violence, including epistemic injustice. Unfortunately, disabled/Mad studies and movements remain grounded in cisnormativity and often act accordingly, while trans studies/movements frequently continue to endorse ableist/sanist discourses and actions. For example, as Baril (2015: 64) demonstrated, "[…] poster slogans supporting the depsychiatrisation of trans identities […], such as 'Trans, not disabled' and 'Trans, not ill', distance trans people from disabled people and relegate them to the status of 'Others.'" This prevents both fields and movements from understanding the complex interlocking natures of transness, disability/Madness, cisgenderism, and ableism/sanism, as well as their links to other oppressive systems, such as racism.

Inattentiveness to race in what Bell (2006) termed "white disability studies" further facilitates the erasure of race and racism from the TD nexus and ignores the role racialization plays in constituting transness and disability. While high rates of suicidality are found in trans communities, suicidality affects disproportionally Black trans disabled people (56% of them attempted suicide in their lifetime, James et al., 2017:19). Given the heightened risk for physical violence, social violence, and pathologization faced by TD people of color (James et al., 2016; 2017), risk of environmental illness (Chen, 2012; Levins-Morales, 2013), as well as disproportionate inaccessibility to healthcare and stable employment, siloing practices in trans and disability/Mad studies also undermine critical linkages between both disciplines and scholars within them (Erevelles, 2011; Schalk and Kim, 2020). We later examine this nexus through the experiences of blogger Cal, and recognize that both the whiteness of notable TD knowledge-makers and the whiteness of our blog post-selection pool reflect a larger climate of white supremacy also present in TD communities.

For TD people facing marginalization and violence both in society and within trans-centered and disability-centered communities (in which a given part of their identity may be dismissed) and whose voices are subjugated through epistemic violence and silencing (Dotson, 2011), blogging constitutes a venue for micro-practices of resistance. While is it not the only valuable way to resist epistemic violence, TD individuals can use blogs to speak back, reclaim space, and respond to micro-aggressions. Because the medico-psychiatric system pathologizes both trans and disabled/Mad experiences, it is particularly important to consider the ways in which cisgenderist and ableist/sanist structures delegitimize the discourses of individuals who are simultaneously trans and disabled/Mad in favor of "legitimate" narratives by doctors and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). 7 We contend that there exists an effective strategy for TD people to counter the monopolization of their discourses by healthcare professionals, society, and trans and disability/Mad studies/movements: the dissemination of their unruly narratives through online activities in general and blog posts in particular. This article highlights the unique possibilities of community building, connection, identity formation, and micro-practices of resistance in TD digital communities. It focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on Tumblr 8 (established in 2007), a micro-blogging 9 /social networking site where subcultural groups have found a creative, social space. Tumblr has been described as a "trans technology" in and of itself, in keeping with a longer tradition of trans digital engagement (Haimson et al, 2019). Under the cover of anonymity or pseudonymity in a medium whose modified relationship to space and time allows for nonverbal and asynchronous modes of communication, TD bloggers are able to build "queercripped" relationalities and communicative modes, part of what Yergeau (2018) calls "queercrip enmindment." 10 Through "connective composition," users form and transform identities with digital posts that challenge norms of gender identity, dis/ability, sanity, reasonability, and coherence (Wargo 2015; 15-16). Taken together, multiple post genres contribute to a culture of collaborative education featuring "subjugated knowledges" and propose micro-practices of resistance.

This exploration of TD bloggers' micro-activism is divided into four parts. After a brief literature review of the emerging field of trans disability studies in the first part, the second and third parts present our theoretical (trans and disability/Mad theory) and methodological frameworks (netnography and thematic analysis). Each of the fourth section's three subsections presents and discusses our findings with particular attention paid to three interrelated genres of TD blog posts we typologized: informational, testimonial, and activist. As their names suggest, these genres aim respectively to: 1) inform other TD internet users of identificatory possibilities; 2) testify about lived experiences; and 3) advocate for TD people through appeals to users both within and outside trans or disabled communities. These posts emblematize TD digital self-determination through democratized access to diagnostic/community resources and self-made or self-modified terminology. As noted by Linton (1998), Faulkner (2017), and Newman et al. (2019), among others, this self-determination, existing in concert with self-knowledge and resources, are critical to the survival of disabled and Mad communities and the proliferation of their knowledges. For TD Tumblr users, self-determination means highlighting and combatting intersecting cisgenderist and ableist/sanist epistemic injustices, and in turn facilitating the creation and resignification of TD diagnoses and gender-related terms. In the wake of this explosion of digitized possibilities, this article considers the challenges and opportunities presented by self-determined TD social networks and highlights the importance of these communities and their counter-narration of medicalized TD experiences.

1. Literature Review: Trans disability studies as an emerging field

Trans disability studies is an emerging research area, as well as a subfield of both trans studies and disability studies. A Google search of "trans disability studies" performed in June 2020 produced fewer than a thousand results, clear evidence that this rapidly evolving field is still in its infancy. Earlier work at the intersection of trans and disability studies does exist, including that of Mog and Swarr (2008), Clare (2009; 2013), Withers (2012), Kafer (2013), Baril and Trevenen (2014) or Marshall and Ware (2014), on the fraught discussions, relationships, and connections between trans and disabled communities and their areas of study. The burgeoning field of trans disability studies exploded around 2015, however, when an article addressing commonalities between trans and disabled people's experiences of bathroom (non-)accessibility was published with the phrase "trans disability studies" in the title (Adair 2015). The problems of access to bathrooms and other gendered spaces for both trans and disabled people have been discussed in several publications since (e.g. Baril, 2015b; Slater et al., 2018). Other common themes in the literature include various factors preventing the theorization of trans and disability issues together and the exploration of the heuristic value of analyzing transness and disability not each in their own silo, but rather as porous, interlocking categories (Baril, 2015a; 2015b; 2016; 2018; Brown, 2017; Clare, 2017; Durban-Albrecht, 2017; Puar, 2017; Fink, 2019; Slater and Liddiard, 2018; George, 2019). These categories are further entwined with and constituted by class and race (Bell, 2006; Ervelles, 2011; Keating, 2016; Schalk and Kim, 2020).

Anchored in lived experiences and produced in an array of formats from theoretical articles to political essays and auto-ethnographic accounts, this literature does not yet contain many empirical studies. That being said, three studies have taken a more empirical approach: a quantitative study by Kattari et al. (2017) on the discrimination faced by trans disabled people in social services, a second by Riggs and Bartholomaeus (2017) on the barriers to healthcare and social services experienced by trans disabled men, and a third by Baril et al. (2020) on the difficulties that confront trans disabled youth at the intersection of cisgenderism and ableism. Furthermore, while there exists a more extensive literature on social networking sites, online communities, and digital micro-activism (e.g. Hansen et al., 2020), it is rarer to find literature focused on disability and online communities (e.g. Mudry and Strong, 2013; Gonzalez-Polledo 2016) or LGBTQ issues and online communities (e.g. Fink and Miller, 2013; Horak, 2014; Wargo, 2015; Lloyd and Finn, 2017; Miller, 2017; Egner, 2019a; 2019b; Pearce, 2019). Little research has been done on the specific intersection of trans and disabled people's digital lives (Cavar and Baril, 2021). Our work both builds on and extends previous research, especially that of Fink and Miller (2013), whose exploration of trans online communities adopts an intersectional lens to consider disability among other marginalized identities, as well as studies by Haimson et al (2019) and by Egner (2019a; 2019b) on LGBTQ disabled communities' online presence more generally. These last studies are particularly relevant to ours because they also examine Tumblr users in particular. Egner (2019a; 2019b), for example, explores how, contrary to "mainstream" groups, diverse marginalized and LGBTQ groups use a queer perspective in their online activities and exchanges to honor differences instead of focusing on sameness. Egner shows how Tumblr users respond to daily invisibilization and marginalization by mobilizing digital networks to validate their existence, values, and identities. Fink and Miller (2013) show that Tumblr represents an excellent venue for self-determination and self-representation for trans people at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities, including disability:

[Q. Miller]: Within this system, genderqueer and queer trans Tumblr users can displace the pernicious norms conditioning representations of trans people within the constraints of mainstream spaces (online and off). Spaces of antinormative trans self-representation within the Tumblr network compel a nuancing of current scholarly understandings of trans and genderqueer sexualities, identities, and representations.

[M. Fink]: To appreciate the impact of queer trans Tumblr production, it is important to consider the acute need for new media spaces for trans cultural production, given the long history of obstacles to self-representation that transgender, gender nonconforming, and gender variant people have faced. (Fink and Miller, 2013: 615)

Fink and Miller express concern that, after being purchased by Yahoo in 2013, Tumblr would be co-opted by corporate forces, but "hop[e], however, that Tumblr's increasing popularity will preserve its status as a continued outlet for original artwork and an additional channel of expression for events that transpire offline, or IRL ('In Real Life')" (Fink and Miller, 2013: 613). Our work (as well as Egner's research) pursues reflections instigated by Fink and Miller to show how Tumblr remains an important site of TD micro-resistance almost a decade later. Haimson et al. argue that Tumblr is not only a venue for trans selfhood, but also a trans technology in itself, characterized by an openness and safety that facilitates information-gathering and self-actualization (2019: 6). While by no means a space free of oppression, including epistemic violence, Tumblr could nevertheless facilitates a queer approach to identity by letting them present themselves in-transition and build community based on shared lived experiences (Haimson et al, 2019:7-8). Given that (micro-)blogs are a very popular medium used by TD people to strike back against cisgenderist and ableist/sanist narratives, our specific contribution in this paper is to focus only on the digital communities of TD people who are often erased (or whose specific realities are not considered) within the larger "LGBQ" communities more commonly studied.

2. Theoretical Framework

We use an assemblage of theoretical and conceptual frameworks to approach this research, specifically, trans theory (e.g. Stryker and Whittle, 2006; Stryker and Azura, 2013), critical disability/Mad/crip theory (e.g. McRuer, 2006; Davis, 2013; LeFrançois et al., 2013; Kafer, 2013), and the concept of epistemic injustice (e.g. Fricker, 2007; Medina, 2012; 2017). Used critically, the trans theoretical framework understands both the infinite possibilities suggested but never fully encapsulated by the expression "trans-" (Stryker et al., 2008), as well as the danger of metaphorizing transness in ways that ignore the lived realities of trans people (Namaste, 2015). We build on Blas Radi's (2019) reflections on "trans* epistemology," which centers the contributions of trans subjects themselves, rather than practicing the discursive otherings cis researchers sometimes use to mischaracterize "the trans experience." As authors, we hope that being situated on the trans and disabled spectrums ourselves will help us to focus on the rich contributions of TD people.

We mobilize critical disability/Mad/crip theory in a similar way. Following a critical disability/Mad studies ethos, we prioritize people marked as epistemically illegitimate, i.e. disabled and Mad people, rather than working from the space of "paternalistic professional dominance" (LeFrançois, Beresford, and Russo 2016: 1) so often conferred by the position of researcher. We also focus on epistemologies and methods of knowledge production similarly marked as illegitimate, "cripistemic" ways of "refus[ing] the usual routes of academic knowledge" (Johnson and McRuer, 2014). Just as digital identities and communities are composed both collectively and "connectively" (Wargo, 2017: 15-16), we also employ a critical disability/Mad/crip theoretical framework that favors the collaboration of participant-scholars over the surveillance and information extraction frequently imposed in more traditional research projects.

The final piece of our theoretical framework is the concept of "epistemic injustice," a notion coined by Miranda Fricker (2007). Building on feminist and critical race scholars' liberatory epistemologies, which have for decades denounced the marginalization of their knowledge (Hill Collins, 2000; Medina, 2012; 2017; Tuana, 2017), Fricker's concept of epistemic injustice distinguishes two forms: testimonial and hermeneutical. According to Fricker, testimonial injustice refers to a situation in which a person is not seen as a credible speaker simply because they belong to a marginalized group. Hermeneutical injustice prevents that person from accessing conceptual tools to understand their oppression and describe their experiences to others. Fricker writes:

Testimonial injustice occurs when prejudice causes a hearer to give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker's word; hermeneutical injustice occurs at a prior stage, when a gap in collective interpretive resources puts someone at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to making sense of their social experiences. An example of the first might be that the police do not believe you because you are black; an example of the second might be that you suffer sexual harassment in a culture that still lacks that critical concept. (Fricker, 2007: 1)

The combined mobilization of trans and critical disability/Mad/crip theoretical frameworks and the concept of epistemic injustice allows us to highlight TD voices that fall outside the realm of "respectable," "believable," or "coherent" discourses. Our framework, then, foregrounds neuroqueerness, an identity, sociality and method of self-narration that resists behavioral normalization (Yergeau 2018:5; 26). In their resistance to testimonial and hermeneutic injustices, bloggers enter into neuroqueer publics. Here, they both find an audience that recognizes them as credible subjects and are able to mobilize, create, and disseminate a wide range of theoretical tools, concepts, neologisms, and new pronouns and identities that make hermeneutical justice possible. We work to expose and counter these injustices in the spirit of other scholars who have denounced epistemic violence in relation to trans people (Fricker and Jenkins, 2017; Radi, 2019) and disabled/Mad/crip people (Liegghio, 2013; Leblanc and Kinsella, 2016; Ymous et al., 2020). By positioning TD voices as central in these conversations, we aim to subvert epistemically unjust practices that use various forms of silencing (Dotson, 2011) not only to privilege scientific and academic scholarship over "personal" writing, but also to favor cisgender, able-bodied, and "sane" voices over those of TD people themselves.

3. Methodological Framework

This paper is anchored in a larger research project, conducted by Alexandre Baril, that seeks to understand the wide variety of discourses surrounding the complex intersections between transness and disability, as well as cisgenderism and ableism/sanism. This larger project asks the following question: How are the links between transness and disability portrayed when these two elements are examined together? Through a qualitative and adapted thematic analysis (Braun and Clark, 2006), 11 the project aims to provide a detailed socio-historical portrait (1968-2020) and typology of discourses on the links between transness and disability. The corpus includes the discourses of eight types of key actors (including trans and disabled people, activists, community organizations, researchers, media professionals, and healthcare professionals) in ten types of documents (including scientific and grey literature, documentaries, websites, blogs, vlogs, zines, or newspapers). In the spirit of Braun and Clark (2019) critical reflections on the uses and misuses of thematic analysis and their insistence on a "reflexive thematic analysis" that recognizes the centrality of the researchers, their subjectivity and theoretical sensitivity in the interpretation of the data and the creation of the themes, we do not consider themes as pre-existing our interpretations, but shaped by our theoretical frameworks and experiences as TD researchers. As Braun and Clark argue, reflexive thematic analysis requires self-reflexivity from researchers because "[t]hemes are creative and interpretive stories about the data, produced at the intersection of the researcher's theoretical assumptions, their analytic resources and skill, and the data themselves" (2019: 594). Although this research is ongoing, findings to date indicate that one of the most popular venues for TD self-expression may be grey literature and blogs; this supports the choice of blogs as the focus for this paper.

We used internet and virtual ethnography, also called netnography, to access TD blogging communities (Hine, 2002; Garcia et al., 2009; Lopez-Rocha, 2010; Addeo et al., 2019; Buford, 2020). Like ethnography, netnography allows researchers to directly observe the communities being studied and meet users "on their own turf" (Garcia et al., 2009). This is particularly important given the frequent dismissal of TD bloggers' discourses as illegible or "insane" when presented against "reasonable" academic conventions (Price, 2011; Addeo et al., 2020). Following Hine (2003) and Lopez-Rocha (2010), we do not segregate the "real" from the "virtual" world. Because we do not see these textually mediated relationships as discrete from the so-called "real world," they become subjects worthy of study. As with ethnographic participant observation, it is possible to observe bloggers' lives through text. Through tag searches, we also attend to the social life of the texts themselves. This is emblematic of the way in which netnography distinguishes itself from other forms of ethnography: the former sits "somewhere between the vast searchlights of big data analysis and the close readings of discourse analysis" (Kozinets, 2015: 4). We observe bloggers within the context of their own community's social norms, as informed by Sarah Cavar's ongoing participation in TD digital communities, but do so with and through their digital texts as objects of analysis themselves. In so doing, we mirror the relationship-building work that occurs between TD participants and their texts, as both circulate queerly in digital space (Haimson et al, 2019).

Between May and July of 2019, we conducted a three-month netnography to create an aggregated corpus of posts made from 2013 to 2019 by selected blogs. The majority of these were hosted on Tumblr, which occupies the center of our analysis, but several blogs whose posts we considered were hosted by individuals or by platforms such as Wordpress. Our primary focus was not entire blogs, but individual posts, although additional blog information was sometimes used to contextualize relevant posts. To collect the blogs in our corpus, we used a combination of prior knowledge (Sarah Cavar has been involved in the TD blogging community since 2011) and tag searching. Using the hashtag search function on Tumblr's website, we searched the hashtags "actuallyautistic," 12 "actuallydisabled," "actuallypsychotic," "actuallymultiple," 13 and "survivingpsych" 14 to find blogs with these tags, then searched each blog with the terms "gender," "personal," and "disability" for applicable information. Due to the relatively higher proportion of trans users posting in disability-related tags than the reverse, we did not search "trans," "nonbinary," "genderqueer," or similar tags on Tumblr's site to find posts. Sarah Cavar followed posts with the identified tags and used prior knowledge of well-known TD bloggers to assemble a list of posts for thematic analysis.

In our initial search for posts, we catalogued thirty-nine influential TD bloggers of varying identities on Tumblr, DreamWidth and LiveJournal, and on blogs hosted on Blogger and Wordpress. All of the bloggers on our list explicitly mentioned both their trans and disabled identities at some point. Gender identities listed by bloggers include nonbinary, trans, and trans woman, in addition to allusions to specific, self-created genders addressed later in this paper. The medical/psychiatric diagnoses and disability terms they list include autism (verbal or nonverbal), dissociative identity/multiplicity, schizophrenia/psychotic disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While many also experience physical impairments, this article focuses on transness and mental disability (Price, 2006; 2011). We selected thirteen posts across seven blogs for in-depth analysis based on representativeness, 15 influence, and popularity (the latter measured by "notes" received). Notes include "likes" and "reblogs" (when a user copies, with credit and sometimes commentary, a user's post to their own blog or that of another user). A higher number of notes represents greater user engagement. While drawing from a larger pool of Tumblr and non-Tumblr posts, we used predominantly posts from Tumblr given its comparative popularity and its dual utility as a blogging and social networking platform. Several posts also serve to exemplify Tumblr's "reblog" function as a mode of community-formation.

In the present article, bloggers are initially introduced by first name and username/URL, following convention on Tumblr and other blogs. Subsequently, they are referred to by first name/pseudonym or, when unavailable, username/URL. One blogger has been pseudonymized due to the very sensitive nature of their blog's content and the possibility of otherwise being recognized. In that specific case, their posts have been clipped and/or paraphrased in order to render them anonymous while retaining their meaning and form. This mode of "ethical fabrication" is described by Markham (2012) as not only working to preserve an amorphous concept of privacy for online users, but also to abandon the idea of "represent[ing] reality accurately." Instead, it focuses on making a "meaningful statement about [qualitative] data to a larger audience" (Markham, 2012: 15).

4. A Netnographic Exploration of Trans Disabled Blogging Communities

4.1. Blogging to Inform

For more than a decade, Tumblr has been a productive site of TD community and identity formation. It is a creative space where new LGBTQ identity terms, pronouns, and communities are born and nurtured (Fink and Miller, 2013; Miller, 2017; Egner, 2019a; 2019b). Through informative posts, users can explain their reasons for creating and using particular terminologies. TD people have long been diagnosed and labeled by medico-psychiatric authorities based on their gender and bodymind differences (McRuer, 2006; Clare, 2009; 2017; Davis, 2013; Kafer, 2013). Blogging gives them an opportunity to reject, transform, and re-create their self-identification. At times, this takes the form of new, unique terms and, at others, involves resignifying existing labels. The creation and circulation of TD posts helps advance new self-identificatory possibilities, particularly in the form of self-diagnostic resources and new gender/pronoun lists. In response to ongoing pathologization, TD bloggers resist in part by informing themselves and their peers about alternative possibilities.

Beginning as early as 2013 and continuing today, lists of new pronouns and genders, dubbed "neopronouns" and "neogenders" (or "xenogenders"), have circulated in queer and trans communities on Tumblr to connect like-minded bloggers. Neuroqueer bloggers comprise a significant share of these communities, oftentimes creating genders and pronouns specific to their neurodivergences as they uniquely impact their genders (Cavar and Baril, 2021). A 2018 FAQ by the blog Xeno-Aligned, a resource hub for neogender terminology that is itself run by a neuroqueer blogger, defined neopronouns as "pronouns that aren't the mainstream (and often gendered) he, she, it, and they" and their associated genders (Xeno-Aligned, 2018). Given the playful, aesthetically conscious context of their formation, neogenders and neopronouns also open a space to debate the pathologization of trans identities and to link trans and disabled identities to pleasure and empowerment. While simultaneous trans and disabled status is not a requirement for the use of neogenders and neopronouns, all neogender-using bloggers considered here self-identify as disabled.

Bloggers such as Margot Orbitsing were responsible for disseminating some of the most popular sets of neopronouns in 2013-2014. Margot (pronouns: xe/xir/xirs) made a list of "pronouns [xe had] encountered in no particular order" (Orbisting, 2013):

  • she/her/hers/herself
  • he/him/his/himself
  • ne/nem/neir/neirself
  • it/it/its/itself (this one to be used ONLY IF YOU'RE EXPLICITLY TOLD THAT IT IS OKAY)
  • ze/zir/zirs/zirself
  • zhe/zhim/zhir/zhirself
  • ce/cir/cirs/cirself
  • hir/hir/hirs/hirself
  • xe/hir/hirs/hirself
  • ey/eim/eir/eirself
  • ve/vir/virs/virself
  • xe/xir/xirs/xirself
  • hu/hu/hume/humeself
  • ve/vaer/vaers/vaerself
  • fae/faer/faers/faerself
  • they/them/theirs/themself
  • […]
  • *e/h*/h*s/h*self (Orbitsing, 2013)

In this post, Margot exercises a descriptive autonomy inaccessible (even unpronounceable) offline, indicating the existence of pronouns designed specifically for digital community use, such as "*e/h*/h*s/h*self" (Orbisting, 2013). Margot's public consideration of aesthetic preference in pronoun selection gives readers tacit permission to do the same, informing them of gender choices as a matter of preference rather than a result of pathology. By confirming findings on LGBTQ digital communities that honor differences instead of focusing on sameness for the sake of respectability (Fink and Miller, 2013; Miller, 2017; Egner, 2019a; 2019b), Margot is both a purveyor of information and a model of possibilities.

Margot's blog is also a space that makes available both xir identity and that identity's relationship to xir posts: Margot's About me fuses xir gender and disability, describing xir "gender status" as "trans, too mentally ill to have a distinct gender experience" (Orbitsing, 2013). Margot lists xir disabilities, "psychotic/depressed/anxious/ptsd," on the same page. This connection is solidified in another of Margot's informational posts, which also includes testimonial elements, where xe responds to a post against trans pathologization with ableist implications. In the original post, blogger Oldbore writes:

Being transgender is not a disease or a disorder though transphobia is inherently ableist because it stems from the completely incorrect and fucked up belief that being trans is a disease or a disorder [bold in original]. (Oldbore, 2013)

Margot reacts to this claim, reminding readers that "there are people who are both trans and mentally ill, or trans and disabled, or trans and having diseases and/or disorders" that Oldbore's post excludes (Oldbore and Orbitsing, 2013). Margot uses a testimonial-infused practice to inform readers about the dangers of trans depathologization unaccompanied by a strong anti-ableist critique, as several TD scholars also remind us (Withers, 2012; Marshall and Ware, 2014; Baril, 2015a; 2015b; 2018; Clare, 2017; Slater and Liddiard, 2018). Margot writes:

[I]n practice I can't separate out my transness from the ways in which I am mentally ill because I can't compartmentalize myself that way […] it's pretty useless to have the "being trans isn't a disease or a disorder" conversation without examining the ways in which sickness vs. wellness is socially constructed [emphasis ours]. (Oldbore and Orbitsing, 2013)

Here, Margot uses xir life as evidence against pathologization. Rather than citing able-bodied and cis perspectives on the social construction of "health," Margot puts forward xir own experiences as sufficient backing for a larger argument for TD recognition. As with the neopronouns list, Margot assumes the position of knowledge-maker and knowledge-circulator by revealing and describing novel language through which readers might self-conceptualize and by suggesting new ways of thinking about gender and disability and their relationships. In that sense, Margot breaks the vicious circle of hermeneutical injustice for trans and disabled people (Liegghio, 2013; Fricker and Jenkins, 2017, Radi, 2019) and creates conceptual tools and ideas that render complex, interlocking TD realities intelligible.

Disability self-diagnosis communities also prioritize personal experience as evidence of identity and belonging, as their informational posts reflect. The increasing digital circulation of diagnostic criteria gives TD people time and space to consider which diagnoses, if any, might be right for them, without necessarily visiting a doctor. While self-diagnosis is neither unique to Tumblr nor exclusive to digital spaces, the TD Tumblr community incorporates trans/gender marginalization, identity pathologization, and cultures of ableism/sanism into their critical perspectives on self-diagnosis.

Blogger Metapianycist exemplifies the fusion of resignified psychiatric and self-created knowledges, particularly regarding autism/neurodiversity. They simultaneously present medically approved criteria for diagnosis and populate their blog with criticisms of psychiatry. Aware that their blog functions as a resource hub for prospective self-diagnosers, Metapianycist provides a link on their homepage to a scanned copy of the DSM's (APA, 2013) criteria for autism (Hawtistic and Metapianycist, 2013). Metapianycist acknowledges the ableism embedded in the diagnostic criteria, describing "the DSM criteria for autism-spectrum diagnoses as 'ways allistics [non-autistic people] are annoyed by autistics,'" while also encouraging the strategic use of the DSM for medical recognition and accommodations (Metapianycist, 2012). When removed from the clinical space, autistic access to DSM criteria allows for self-evaluation rather than assessment grounded in ableist/sanist stereotypes (Baggs, 2020). The DSM becomes just one resource in a chorus of community- and non-community-based perspectives once again mobilized to combat the forms of hermeneutical and testimonial injustices that TD people face in their everyday lives.

Along with a scan of the DSM, Metapianycist shares information supporting the veracity of autistic self-diagnosis. Their blog homepage features a link to their "Self-Diagnosis" tag, where users can find posts with informative links to individuals and organizations that believe "autistic people [not doctors] are experts on autism." This includes a comprehensive 2018 post highlighting the medical abuse that can follow a professional diagnosis and emphasizing the power of autistic community self-diagnosis (Metapianycist, 2018). The recognition of disabled/Mad people's expertise about their own realities is an excellent demonstration of testimonial justice; it takes voices usually delegitimized and renders them credible (Liegghio, 2013; Leblanc and Kinsella, 2016). Citing widespread discrimination at the intersection of trans and autistic identities, Metapianycist uses their platform to provide not only professionally and self-generated autism resources, but also to offer practical warnings to those considering professional diagnosis. Although they do not dismiss the value of professional diagnosis (they received one in order to qualify for government disability benefits), Metapianycist questions the ableist power differential embedded in the doctor/patient relationship:

NTs [neurotypicals, whose brain function aligns with ableist social expectations] who shame autistic self diagnosis are being shitty by valuing medical authority over people's ability to find and exchange resources with others like them (which is the entire purpose of self diagnosis). (A-carnie-and-a-cop and Metapianycist, 2018)

By informing users of the utility of self-diagnosis and providing resources to facilitate it, Metapianycist combines informative and activist posting, the third post genre identified in this article. They encourage the pursuit of community and creation of self-knowledge by welcoming users into their radically inclusive autistic community:

If a person learns about autism and thinks "that sounds a lot like me and would explain a lot of my experiences and struggles" that is not hurting anyone. Not even if they decide not to pursue a professional diagnosis. If you're pretty sure you're autistic, you're not hurting anyone by saying "I'm autistic." (Metapianycist, 2018)

Metapianycist takes a slightly different approach than Margot; they combine the autistic community's "subjugated knowledge" (Foucault, 2001) and reproductions of formal criteria in order to help potential autistics cultivate community-based, hybrid identities. As a professionally diagnosed person, Metapianycist takes an active role in redistributing various means of self-knowledge, reaffirming an ideological commitment to anti-cisgenderism and anti-ableism, and helping readers understand "what's going on with [their] health" (Metapianycist and Suicideskin, 2019). In clearly highlighting (and challenging) the doctor-patient power differential inherent in diagnosis, Metapianycist supports explicitly the same ethos that Margot adopts implicitly: that the power to name oneself is inextricable from any project for collective and self-liberation. This once more validates a variety of findings on LGBTQ digital life (Miller, 2017; Egner, 2019a; 2019b; Haimson et al, 2019).

Echoing their support for self-determination and aligned with disability/Mad activist ethos, blogger P3A uses the same self-diagnostic ethos to remix cisnormative diagnostic criteria for "Aspergirls," or women with the now-defunct diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (Simone, 2012). P3A transforms the characteristics of this gendered diagnostic through gender-neutral, trans-friendly language and challenges other bloggers' expressions, including those employed by Simone (2012), who uses "Aspergirls" and "Female Asperger Syndrome Characteristics." P3A also provides a note explaining that, although "the original source for [the traits] is highly gendered […], atypical autism traits do not only appear in girls" [bold in original] (p-3a-s-life-resources-blog, 2015). For trans autistic people, self-diagnostic resources like those provided by P3A remove the barrier to access created by highly gendered language. P3A's intervention makes it easier for those otherwise excluded from binary, gender-specific autism diagnostic checklists to access this information. Just as Margot's list provides a space for users to discuss their genders and pronouns, P3A's post creates an informational home base where users can self-determine their realities and diagnoses. Combined with meta-informative posts like Metapianycist's, which do not provide identificatory terms but support autonomous self-identification, these identification lists open up previously unthought TD possibilities. Metapianycist and P3A therefore claim, transform, and redistribute the language of identification while also facilitating other bloggers' mini-testimonials and self-diagnoses.

In the same way blogger-created pronoun lists and novel identity labels place identificatory authority directly back in the hands of TD bloggers, self-diagnosis renders disabled identity one of autonomous association rather than a medico-psychiatric diagnosis imposed by someone else. Informational TD bloggers put medical authority in its place, that is, alongside a variety of other sources of knowledge, but never privileged among them; they propose the inclusion of first-person accounts and testimonials as central to creating valuable knowledge (Hill Collins, 2000; Liegghio, 2013; Leblanc and Kinsella, 2016; Fricker and Jenkins, 2017). Further, these bloggers' willingness to compile and circulate such lists informs other TD users that what was once restrictive pathology is now open-ended and self-determined by community affiliation (Fink and Miller, 2013). This facilitates hermeneutical justice by creating notions, concepts, and categories that allow marginalized groups to understand their realities from their own perspectives and explain it to others. In this way, the informational function of blogging is often, if not always, deeply intertwined with another function of blogging we identified: testifying.

4.2. Blogging to Testify

Testimonial posts have long been a prominent feature of disability-related blogs, especially the fading "web diary" long-form genre (Buford, 2020). These posts have also been key in documenting gender transition stories, which are often framed as journeys of disability and "recovery" (Mudry and Strong, 2013; Clare, 2017). While traditional long-form blogs, whether self-hosted or hosted by sites like Blogger and Wordpress, continue online, Tumblr microblogs have also emerged as sites of TD "micro-testimony," a term used here to refer to the brief, momentary, fragmented, and sometimes interconnected text posts common on Tumblr blogs and exemplified in this section. For TD people, testimonial posts narrativize mundane, but iconic, elements of TD experience. Community meet-ups, medical appointments, and cisgenderist, ableist/sanist microaggressions form composite TD stories presented in blog form. The writing style used in testimonial posts, which can range widely in formality and tone and impacts the testifier's epistemic legitimacy, is here analyzed in relation to the poster's desired audience and subject position under cisgenderist and ableist/sanist systems. In this section, we consider both "semi-formal" testimonials and micro-testimonials to explore their respective purposes and differences in legitimacy.

"Semi-formal" testimonial posts tend to treat the blog as a diary of an otherwise-offline life, an annex of the offline world where one can "overshare" (Buford, 2020). While maintaining grammatical, spelling, and other written conventions, these posts give access to a blogger's inner life. Joelle, an autistic trans woman who blogged at the now-defunct evilautie.org, 16 exemplifies this practice. She uses her blog to comment on her experience as a recently out transwoman [sic] 17 who has long been embedded in offline autistic communities. The blog is a space to publicly process her experiences at length and a way of informing and educating others in her autistic communities about the personal impacts of their cisgenderist behaviors.

In a 2017 post, "Being Trans in Autistic Space," Joelle testifies about the successes and issues she had experienced in autistic communities since coming out as a transwoman, what she calls her "journey of authenticity" (EvilAutie, 2017). Even though her trans and autistic identities exist simultaneously, she notes widespread "ignorance and indifference" about her transness inside autistic communities (EvilAutie, 2017). Alluding to the stereotype of autistic bluntness, she writes of a "qualitative difference" in the comments she receives about her gender identity and sexuality in autistic spaces compared with non-autistic spaces:

I've had other autistic people think it proper (and, apparently, necessary) to tell me that they are sexually interested in women, but not transwomen (hint: we are women), because our parts, apparently, don't fit their fantasies. (EvilAutie, 2017)

Such inappropriate commentary on her body and sexuality and judgment of her acceptance based on her sexual activity and desirability is in keeping with findings in larger bodies of work on transmisogyny (Lloyd and Finn, 2017; Serano, 2007). 18 Joelle's testimony, a personal experience of a widespread phenomenon, reminds readers that no community, disabled/Mad or otherwise, is immune to perpetuating oppression, including cisgenderist and transmisogynistic violence. Joelle also feels unaccepted by nonbinary autistic people who, acting as "all-encompassing-gender-theorists," treat her binary womanhood with transmisogynistic suspicion. 19

Joelle also uses her blog to praise autistic communities for their trans inclusion. She notes that "other autistic women respond to news of [her] transition by simply accepting [her] as part of the overall population of autistic women," citing what was then called the Autism Women's Network (now the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network) as evidence of increased trans acceptance by autistic cisgender women (AWN, 2020) (EvilAutie, 2017). Though her experiences of transmisogyny within autistic communities continue, these communities have in some ways been successful in trans inclusion; Joelle describes how autistic community members "went out of their way to use the [new] names and pronouns" she chose (EvilAutie, 2017).

The post concludes by stepping beyond the documentation of experiences and testimonials into an educational register to present a list of guidelines for trans autistic inclusion. Joelle writes, for example, that invasive and de/sexualizing statements about her body "can be harassment" and advises others on best practices for respectful engagement with trans people, especially women (EvilAutie, 2017). She also asks the aforementioned "all-encompassing gender theorists" not to "try to impress [her] with [their] theory of gender" and instead take her transness at face value (EvilAutie, 2017). More than a testimonial, Joelle's post writes of her exclusion in the hopes of improving her community's conditions and demonstrates how both informational and testimonial posts are deeply intertwined with activist posts.

Unlike Joelle's semi-formal testimonial posts, other TD outlets are perpetually excluded from the bounds of reasonability and educational capacity under the assumption that there is nothing to learn from individuals marked as "incompetent" or "insane." Based on ableist/sanist norms and formal linguistic and academic convention, their micro-testimonial posts are often considered unruly, incoherent, or irrelevant (Price, 2011; Leblanc and Kinsella, 2016). Tumblr user Cal (a pseudonym), 20 makes informal, spontaneous posts that resist grammatical and spelling conventions and are geared toward a small number of followers. Cal, a survivor of medical and psychiatric abuse, blogs about their experience at the nexus of racialization, gender non-conformity, and psychosis. Like Joelle, Cal also recounts offline experiences of discrimination, including being perceived as unworthy of their undergraduate program due to disability accommodations and experiencing harassment for their simultaneous gender non-conformity, pathologized "behaviors," and ethnicity. While Cal and Joelle both contribute to a shared archive of TD testimonies, Cal's subject position and testimonial style differ greatly from Joelle's, as does their power to resist psychiatric oppression.

Given their unique position as a psychiatric survivor diagnosed with schizophrenia, the stakes and impact of Cal's testimony are very different from Joelle's. This is due both to the form of their testimony –– spontaneous and "unpolished" –– and its contents, which include references to hallucinations, delusions, and other experiences that threaten to strip their legitimacy as a speaker (LeFrançois et al., 2013; LeFrançois et al., 2016; Leblanc and Kinsella, 2016). Indeed, they comment on the way a diagnosed psychosis transforms their "gender….trauma…distrust of doctors, police, and the government" into symptoms of illness rather than legitimate parts of their lived experience. Psychiatric diagnosis, according to Lisa Blackman (2015: 26), leads to a "particular form of debility" in which personal and social experiences are individualized and medicalized, and recovery is measured by belief in one's intrinsic "disorder" and compliance with drug treatments. As a consequence of their diagnosis, Cal loses rhetorical authority in the face of readers and doctors alike; their TD identity suddenly becomes illegible, even insane. This confirms the results of the few empirical studies that have shown how mental disability is used by healthcare professionals to reinforce gatekeeping regarding gender identity; transness is interpreted as a symptom of mental instability or irrationality (Riggs and Bartholomaeus, 2017; Baril et al., 2020). A schizophrenia diagnosis may, to cite Blackman, "haunt" a speaker; it casts doubt on their words even before they have spoken and threatens their ability to share experiences and build community. Cal uses testimonial blogging to circumvent this isolation and speak directly to an intimate community of like-minded TD bloggers whose lives are marked with delegitimizing diagnoses. By redeploying the words "schizophrenia" and "psychosis" once reserved only for doctors, Cal seizes control of their narrative, turning psychosis from a story told about them to a way of supporting themself and others.

In two successive posts, Cal testifies about their continued existence despite diagnostic condemnation; this reassures others who may be schizophrenic that a psychotic life is possible. In the first post, Cal cites their own history as a way to reassure readers who fear inheriting a parent's schizophrenia. Cal writes, "listen, it happened to me," and goes on to say that their daily experiences aren't always frightening, but can also be "chill." In the second post, Cal elaborates on their ability to live and build community out of schizophrenia. They present schizophrenia as a manageable possibility rather than a damning diagnosis, a testimonial to the possibility of refusing a grim psychiatric prognosis (Leblanc and Kinsella, 2016; Crichton et al., 2017). While noting that schizophrenia requires individuals "to adjust…[and] change how [they] navigate the world," Cal also writes of the community-building possibilities it opens to them as a TD blogger. Cal transforms their anticipated relationship with a stigmatizing diagnosis by using reclaimed psychiatric language to indicate how they "find good people and build relationships" they may otherwise have lacked. They assure readers that "it will be scary," as evidenced by their blog's archive of posts detailing hallucinations and paranoia, but also that "it'll be ok." From within a supportive community, psychosis moves from a site of fear to a place of shared experience, and is transformed into a way to collectively counteract testimonial injustice.

Unlike informational posts, testimonial posts speak to and of a pre-existing community, citing previously known information in order to contextualize personal experiences. Joelle's testimonial posts, which keep with a tradition of feminist consciousness-raising, use knowledge of transmisogyny and autistic community norms to discuss her feelings of exclusion as a trans woman (Serano, 2007; Craddock, 2020). Given her status as a .org blogger, semi-formal style, and presence in offline autistic communities, Joelle has the credibility to testify on behalf of fellow trans autistics and to take on the roles of online diarist and community resource. While providing an informative body of knowledge, Joelle's testimonial posts are distinct from informational posts because they prioritize her personal narrative. While informational posters may cite, or encourage others to cite, lived experience, it is testimonial posters who make sharing stories their primary goal, who reveal the intimate connection between storytelling and transformative change. The testimonial may be followed by informational and activist post elements. Joelle, for example, uses her story to make specific demands for future inclusion in autistic communities. In this way, EvilAutie moves beyond the realm of personal narrative to become an educational (and, if left unchecked, hegemonic) representation of trans autistic life.

Unlike Joelle's narrative practices, Cal's anonymous, Mad storytelling challenges notions of narrative credibility and intelligibility. If schizophrenia is understood to strip a speaker's legitimacy––whether through inherently "disorganized" speech or through the projection of disorganization on all that is said––Cal's salient testimonial posts are not only a way of speaking back to psychiatry, but also of calling into question the psychiatric construction of their schizophrenic self (Price, 2011). Unlike Joelle, who aims to unveil and dismantle in-community prejudice, Cal attempts to digitally re-seize control of the stigmatized diagnostic narrative that claims that their community is itself impossible. Cal positions their memories, suspicions, and gender as facts of their life that outside observers, including doctors, are getting wrong. When the offline world turns away from the truth to embrace relentless critique, the very diagnosis thought to epitomize "insanity" becomes a touchstone of community life (LeFrançois et al., 2013; Crichton et al., 2017). In explaining and practicing the community-making project they promise to new schizophrenics, Cal untells psychiatry's story of psychosis and resists the conventions of "sane" and "legible" narratives with informal, decontextualized posts. Like Metapianycist, Cal's posts resignify sites of oppression as spaces of positive relationality and contestation. In that sense, both the semi-formal and micro/informal styles of testimonial posts we identified allow users to advocate for recognition, validation, respect, and improvement of their everyday life conditions.

4.3. Blogging to Advocate

Activist posts constitute a distinct, though interrelated, genre in our typology of blog posts. Unlike their testimonial and informational counterparts, activist posts are designed specifically to spread anti-ableist, anti-sanist, and anti-cisgenderist messages inside and outside of communities. In an activist post, testimonial and informational elements are secondary goals. Though frequently castigated for what their able-bodied counterparts call "armchair activism," TD digital activist work has unique benefits, especially through the democratization of access to large digital platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube (Fink and Miller, 2013; Horak, 2014; Craddock, 2020). "Armchair" digital activism is crucial in the pursuit and practice of disability justice: the internet lends voice and autonomy to those most impacted by these barriers (Wezzie, 2019). For example, the internet facilitates Cal's critiques of psychiatry while ensuring their continued distance from psychiatric authorities. The internet may be the only place where one's trans identity can be shared and affirmed, or the only way in which a housebound person can consistently speak publicly. The digital sphere does indeed enable radical, counter-hegemonic "armchair activism" for those whose dissent is pathologized, silenced, or ignored without it. Now, people have the chance, from their armchairs, to be heard. Despite the counter-hegemonic potential of Tumblr as a tool, internet-based activism retains a subordinate position to its "on-the-ground" counterparts. Activists who have attained "real life" recognition are rhetorically privileged over those with a large digital footprint, especially when those "real life" activists are backed by professional organizations. In this section, we focus on TD bloggers whose behaviors, dress, physical mobility, and other factors create, due to power relations in digital activism, potential or ongoing restriction of expression in "real life" and other forms of delegitimization online. For them, micro-activism through blogging is radical in that it allows them to resist the multiple oppressions they face.

Meersbrande, a multiple system 21 with one Tumblr blog, engage in testimonial-infused activism while strategically adopting the language of psychiatry. In a 2019 two-post chain, Meersbrande use a combination of informal and semi-formal styles to cross from the in-community activist sphere to one in which they directly address psychological professionals. Their initial post begins informally: "ok but can psychologists (and similar) FINALLY get into the habit of using they/them pronouns when talking about child development, therapy, or whatever else they're talking about????" [capitalization in original] (Meersbrande, 2019). Their initial lowercase writing, use of "ok but", and question marks indicate informality. They continue by describing their frustration with the gender stereotypes and cisnormativity embedded in psychologists' use of gendered pronouns:

[…] Like you don't know what pronouns fit the person this applies to, or rather, you do know that it'll apply to people of all kinds of genders and who use all kinds of pronouns. Even if you don't know about nonbinary people (which you should!), you do know that not every client is a "she" and not every child is a "he" [emphases ours]. (Meersbrande, 2019)

Later, when Meersbrande reblog and add to this original post, they make marked adjustments in language and content. This time, they address a psychological-professional audience (rather than a general "you") using normative grammar, capitalization, and punctuation. The multi-paragraph addition begins, "I don't think cis people realise just how alienating and actually painful it is to read something that one is expected to and/or wants to apply to oneself that has the wrong pronouns!" (Meersbrande, 2019). Here, they appeal to a largely cis audience of psychological professionals as they explain how cisgender people are also harmed by binary gender norms and suggest the relevance of gender-inclusive language beyond fights for trans justice.

Because Meersbrande's multiplicity and transness threaten to undermine their authority as speakers and activists, their writing uses the language of psychological discourse in order to gain epistemic leverage in their advocacy, demonstrating here a form of testimonial smothering, a process in which someone transforms their message to make them more palatable to other people (Dotson, 2011):

[Cis people] don't know what it's like to feel the erosion of one's self due to something as small as a pronoun, that can still have so much power (unfortunately). Two/three letters can speak volumes of exclusion and oppression, shaming and humiliation. […] Using either "he" or "she" instead of "they" contributes to gendered stereotypes and invisibilises people. (Meersbrande, 2019)

Expressions such as "alienating," "erosion of one's self," and "invisibilizes" signal that Meersbrande are "in the know": they possess the relevant knowledge. Meersbrande slide from the passive patient role to an advocate capable of rigorous debate. Having broken open an ableist/sanist, cisgenderist conversation with the interruptive "ok but," Meersbrande weaponize knowledge of clinical language to speak directly to psychologists in a way still accessible to other TD bloggers. They use their insight into the language of psychology combined with their personal experience on the receiving end of cisgenderism and ableism/sanism to bridge the gap between them.

In a similar way, Autistic—rory, a nonverbal, nonbinary autistic Tumblr blogger, also fuses testimony and activism as they blog from the group home where they live full-time (Autistic—rory, 2019). With posts that can accumulate hundreds and thousands of likes and reblogs, Rory both provides a counter-discourse to the narrative of nonverbal autistic people as incompetent, unaware, and undeserving of autonomy and challenges the epistemic and spatial boundaries of disabled life (Clare, 2009; 2017; Baggs, 2020). Though unable to physically leave the group home, their blog is a path to mobility and a platform where both the form and content of their posts function as micro-activism. An argument in favor of nonverbal autistic competence, these activist posts are themselves evidence of the blogger's own capability.

In a 2019 post titled "Nonverbal," Rory introduces themself as a person who "has been [nonverbal] [their] entire life" and "use[s] a tablet to communicate," something unknowable online unless disclosed (Autistic—rory, 2019). Rory writes that, because they do not speak, "people underestimate what [they] can understand or do" but assures readers that they "can understand more than [verbal, neurotypical people] think" (Autistic—rory, 2019). They raise awareness about a plurality of communication methods and explain that their need for "alternative forms of communication" reflects a value-neutral difference rather than inherent incompetence (Autistic—rory, 2019). As with Meersbrande, the impetus behind Rory's activist posts is ongoing discrimination, including in the form of epistemic injustice. For example, Rory has had their tablet, vital for communication, taken away; this left them in a "life-threatening" situation (Autistic—rory, 2019). In light of this, Rory implores verbal readers, including psychological professionals:

DO NOT take away someone's communication aids, whether it is a tablet, piece of paper, eye gaze device, or anything else they use. If you do this you are taking away their only way to communicate, imagine if someone took away your speech and didn't give you an alternative [capitalization in original]. (Autistic—rory, 2019)

Rory compares their experience of tablet loss to the removal of voice, which allows verbal readers to identify with a nonverbal experience. This identification is further facilitated through the common language of online text. In this way, from their group home Rory is able to engage in conversation with other users; they are able to express needs, desires, and feelings otherwise silenced or dismissed on a more level communicative field (Dotson, 2011). Where the needs of a nonverbal autistic person would otherwise be filtered through the language of "special needs," Rory's blog is a first-person demand for access grounded in personal testimony about the consequences of denial.

Rory also uses their blog to challenge presumptions of non-autonomy for those who live in group homes, explicitly citing and refuting autistic stereotypes. In a 2019 post titled "Low Functioning," they draw attention to the faulty rhetoric of "functioning labels," a system that ranks autistics as "high-" or "low-" functioning based on proximity to apparent neurotypicality. In this framing, an autistic person able to work, live alone, attend a mainstream school, and speak verbally might be considered "high-functioning" and epistemically privileged over their nonverbal, institutionalized, non-working counterparts. Part of Rory's activism is direct engagement with differently "functioning" autistic people and the explanation of the harms these binary labels do. Rory advocates for a system that addresses individuals' unique needs, rather than placing them into prescriptive categories based on dependence or perceived functionality. They resist the rhetorical confines of their label. Rory writes that "most people would consider [them] 'low-functioning,'" given what they call their "obviously autistic" behavior such as public meltdowns, a marking that both excuses and enables their institutionalization (Autistic—rory, 2019). Furthermore, Rory argues that the "low-functioning" label also discourages the pursuit of autonomy: these labels "[ingrain] negative thoughts into people's minds that they are not good enough" (Autistic—rory, 2019). However, Rory's blog also acts as both an archive of their activism and evidence of its veracity; their textual activism is a reminder that "speechless doesn't mean thoughtless" (Autistic—rory, 2019). Rory makes clear the high stakes of the functioning label discourse through which they and others are "den[ied] agency and basic rights" for being "obviously more autistic than others" and therefore more exploitable by medical professionals (Autistic—rory, 2019). With their blog, Rory is able to make direct arguments against dehumanization, illustrates an awareness of their oppression, and refuses epistemic erasure and silencing (Liegghio, 2013; Leblanc and Kinsella, 2016).

Rory, like Cal, speaks from a position of epistemic illegitimacy. Unlike Cal's community-centered testimonials, Rory's activist posts speak primarily outward, which leads them to engage in discourse and storytelling with an array of different bloggers. While lived experience is key to their activism (especially given that they advocate for nonverbal people's access to the means of knowledge production), testimony is not their exclusive goal. Instead, their physical location in a group home and social location as nonverbal and autistic are embodied evidence of the causes for which they advocate, especially the recognition of autonomy and capability for those with non-traditional communication needs. Rory's work forces users to reconsider dismissals of nonverbal people: they are both an activist for and evidence of their legitimacy and autonomy. Like Meersbrande and Cal, Rory's blog upsets the flow of psychiatric discourse in a way that accommodates their needs and does not materially endanger them. Like Meersbrande, Rory addresses their posts outward and challenges medico-psychiatric expectations of subservience and silence rather than requesting inclusion (Egner, 2019a; 2019b). Their activist posts turn testimonial outward, using TD speech itself as a tool to resist epistemic injustice.

Conclusion: Blogging as micro-practices of resistance

Through posts that deeply intertwine the informational, testimonial, and activist genres, we showed that TD bloggers (re)claim their right to self-determination while also encouraging others to do the same. In all three post genres typologized and analyzed here, marginalized bloggers deploy reclaimed language to highlight the cisgenderist and ableist/sanist norms that undergird the language of identity categories and diagnoses. Despite this commonality, the wide variety of these bloggers' methods, evidence, intended audiences, and rhetorical styles illustrates both their internal diversity and the versatility of their medium.

TD bloggers take part in a polyvocal, undisciplined knowledge network designed to defy oppression and build strong communities through what Medina (2012; 2017) calls "micro-practices of resistance." Awareness of and respect for these communities and their narrative interventions are necessary to the development of a comprehensive trans disability justice politics. Blogs may provide sites of respite and venues for productive intellectual and epistemic engagement for a multiplicity of TD users in a world that devalues their voices through forms of silencing and testimonial and hermeneutical injustices. Blogs allow users to share knowledge and to self-advocate across space and time, while also making it possible for them to navigate around traditional epistemic barriers. Although blogs alone cannot fully remove the systems that enable the abuse, discrimination, and marginalization of TD people, these digitally accessible and cross-spatial representations of TD counter-narratives have the potential, as Medina (2012; 2017) states, to destabilize the dominant system's culture. These counter-narratives both form and are formed by the dynamic communities that produce them. Members' multi-genre engagement form a rich text of TD self-scholarship in which TD bloggers are not objects of study, but scholars of personal experience.

TD blog posts offer a collaborative means for resisting epistemic injustice, with each post genre serving a unique function. Informational lexicons of identities and neopronouns, as well as self-diagnostic resources, work to remedy widespread testimonial and hermeneutical injustices. In addition to normalizing and simplifying the self-naming process, posts also facilitate creativity and skepticism of medico-psychiatric authority. Blogs can also offer digital protection to those concerned with identity-based violence or ostracism. In blog form, testimonies become part of a mass educational project for readers inside and outside these communities. Testimonials allow bloggers to reseize narrative control from medico-psychiatric power in an effort to create greater testimonial justice. Drawing on the common language put forward by informational posts and the storytelling found in testimonial posts, activist posts engage in direct discourse with oppressive/uninformed actors and demand structural changes. In sum, we believe that informational, testimonial, and activist genres of posts share the goal of self-determination and self-representation in the face of epistemic injustice and violence.

Trans and disabled/Mad communities are immune neither to the medico-psychiatric gaze nor to cisgenderism and ableism/sanism and as a result they sometimes reproduce these oppressive discourses. Even in the realm of blogged micro-activism, power differentials are evident. Bloggers with access to language perceived as professional and academic are privileged, while different experiences of stigma have an influence on users' non-/anonymity. That being said, it may be precisely the users pushed furthest to the TD epistemic margins who envision the most subversive counter-narrative possibilities, uninhibited as they are by expectations of sense-making, organized language, and institutional approval.

Within a multi-genre ecosystem of TD posts, users circulate self-scholarship in order to reclaim their narratives. The digital medium offers an asynchronous, self-directed, semi-anonymous archive of TD communication and knowledge that is particularly conducive to self-scholarship. This suggests that blog posts, as the blog "Autism Against Fascism" (2021) documents, are in danger of elitist and reactionary usurpation, they still constitute a formidable site of epistemic resistance by allowing previously unheard bloggers to retell both their stories and themselves.

References

Endnotes

  1. The authors would like to thank Catriona LeBlanc for her excellent revision and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding this research project on transness and disability. The authors would also like to thank the editors of this journal and the anonymous reviewers of this article for their useful comments.
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  2. Dedicated to trans realities, trans studies discusses a variety of identities, including transgender, transsexual, nonbinary, agender, and two-spirit identities. Our usage of the term "trans" is inclusive of these various identities.
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  3. Disability and Mad studies represent distinct disciplines. Our grouping of these fields with a slash (disability/Mad studies) does not aim to erase the differences and debates between them. In fact, on numerous occasions, disability studies and disability rights movements have reproduced forms of sanism (or mental ableism), while Mad studies and Mad movements have reproduced forms of ableism. We combine these fields and movements because they inform our theoretical framework in equal measure. Note that we capitalize "Mad" as a reclaimed identity and movement/field of study in order to distinguish it from the use of "mad" as a common adjective.
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  4. Price (2006) and others use the term "mental disability" to encompass what are also called neurological, developmental, intellectual, psychiatric, cognitive, and emotional/psychological disabilities. We use the expression "people with mental disability" to refer to a variety of individuals living with diverse realities, including schizophrenia, psychosis, depression, anxiety, autism/neurodivergence, etc. Our use of the term "trans disabled (TD)" is inclusive of mentally disabled trans people on which we focus in this article.
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  5. Ansara (2015: 15) writes: "Unlike 'transphobia', which emphasizes individual hostility and negative attitudes, the cisgenderism framework incorporates both unintentional and well-intentioned practices. Cisgenderism often functions at systemic and structural levels: even when individuals might reject some aspects of cisgenderist ideology, they may live and work within broader structural contexts that perpetuate and manufacture cisgenderism." Cisnormativity, the normative component of cisgenderism, suggests that cisgender (non-trans) people constitute the norm against which trans people are evaluated and judged (Baril and Trevenen, 2014).
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  6. Respondents were able to select more than one option. Although the percentages of other disabled identities are not presented here, it is worth mentioning that another 19% of those surveyed self-identified as living with disability and 21% with chronic pain.
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  7. The DSM, now in its fifth edition (APA, 2013) and sometimes called "the psychiatric bible," catalogues mental disorders and their respective diagnostic criteria, as approved by the American Psychological Association (APA).
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  8. For detailed descriptions of the Tumblr platform, see Fink and Miller (2013) and Egner (2019b).
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  9. A medium for transmitting brief, sometimes character-restricted posts with the features of a blog, including the option to follow users and comment on their posts (Hansen et al., 2020).
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  10. In Crip Theory (2006), McRuer uses the word "queercrip" to indicate simultaneous, intersecting stories of queer and crip subjectivity in bodies that do not comply with abled and cisheterosexual norms. Yergeau's (2018) use of "enmindment" explores the term in relation to Mad and neurodivergent, particularly autistic and queercrip people.
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  11. While thematic analysis (Braun and Clark, 2006; 2019) was originally developed for interview data, it was adapted in this research project to be used with other forms of qualitative data, such as discourses found in blogs, vlogs, grey and scientific literature, etc. Those discourses were handled in the same way interview data would be.
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  12. The "actually-" tags were started within the community by users who "actually" had a certain disability to distinguish their posts from those by able-bodied people about said disability. Although tags like "actuallytrans" exist, they were not searched due to limited usage.
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  13. The term "multiple system" refers to a collection of selves that occupy a single host body. Often, the host has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, or DID (colloquially known as "multiple personality disorder"). Systems, typically a means of reacting to childhood trauma, occur when fractal selves emerge in one body as a means of psychological preservation. However, conflicting discourses concerning the legitimacy of non-trauma-based systems is ongoing, as are debates over the legitimacy of self-diagnosed systems.
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  14. "Survivingpsych" is a community tag used by those listing tips, resources, or warnings regarding the medico-psychiatric system, especially in cases of institutionalization.
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  15. Specifically, we sought representation speaking to several prominent mental disability communities on Tumblr, including the autistic, psychotic, and multiple system communities, as well as intersections therein. We also sought to represent a mixture of self- and professionally- diagnosed bloggers, as well as those whose diagnostic status is not apparent.
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  16. Accessible via the Internet Archive, a nonprofit archive of what it calls "internet sites and other cultural artifacts." The site uses a service called The Wayback Machine to archive snapshots of websites from the last twenty years.
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  17. While we are using two words, "trans woman," we retain Joelle's original spelling of "transwoman" here.
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  18. A term coined by Julia Serano (2007) to describe the unique form of oppression faced by trans women.
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  19. Binary trans people (trans men and trans women) may face this accusation from nonbinary and genderqueer trans people, who sometimes accuse them of reinforcing a cisnormative, binary gender system.
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  20. As discussed in the methodology section, we use a pseudonym for Cal and have anonymized their blog posts to protect their identity. In this section, we deliberately quote them without including references.
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  21. Because Meersbrande is a system of multiple subjects, we refer to them using plural language under the collective Meersbrande title. As mentioned earlier, the term "multiple system" refers to a collection of selves that occupy a single host body, often diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Sarah Cavar, Alexandre Baril

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